By: Kurt Snyder
James McCann. You may remember him. He is our starting catcher. You may have forgotten about him. But that’s a good thing. A lot of people did. Mainly because our backup, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, tore the cover off the baseball in April while McCann was on the DL.
In the off-season, the Tigers picked Salty up because he was a veteran catcher with some pop in his bat; a switch hitter who offered a wealth of knowledge for a young, emerging leader behind the plate.
But sometimes you get more than you bargained for. Sometimes you get more than you could ever expect. Salty was pressed into duty really early this season when McCann hurt his ankle and went on the DL. It was not at all what we wanted to see happen. James appears to be a catcher who is ready to take off and should very soon be an All Star; so seeing him go down would surely hurt.
But in the door walked Salty, our backup switch-hitting veteran catcher. He was a nice smart pickup, wasn’t he? But who knew that he would carry the Tigers for so long in April? The man came in, hit 6 home runs, most of them in high leverage situations and quite literally made us forget about McCann.
In the off season, Al Avila, seeing what Jarrod could potentially offer the Tigers, smartly nabbed him. And already, in this young season, he has paid more dividends than Tiger fans could have ever expected.
But here lies the issue with a lot of fans in this situation. How they should be reacting and how they are reacting are 2 different things. McCann is back, ready to roll, and people are wondering why he would return to the starting role? After all, we didn’t miss much behind the plate with Salty and you could easily argue we wouldn’t have gotten that kind of production from McCann in April, right?
Well, not so fast. Nothing has changed or should change. Salty came in when we needed him, took over, and made the most of his opportunity. He filled his role and more. And we learned a lot.
Salty does indeed still have power. He does give the team options off the bench. And he’s a good catcher, having thrown out his fair share of runners in April. He had a great month, but by no means does that translate into a changing of the guard behind the plate.
He has proven to us that Avila knows what he’s doing. He has proven to us that we are in great shape at catcher and when McCann needs a break, bringing in Salty will not weaken the lineup. That’s a luxury a lot of teams don’t have.
What he’s proven to Tiger management is this. They have a backup catcher they want on the field. It’s a great problem to have. Expect to see Jarrod at first maybe more than they had planned while Miggy sits or DH’s. Expect Jarrod to DH maybe more than they had planned in order to keep VMart rested and healthy. That’s the kind of value in one player that we never thought we were getting. He may be key in keeping 2 cogs in our lineup …well…in the lineup.
Depth will always be something you talk about at the end of the season when you analyze the World Champions. Guys off the bench play vital roles. But depth is also talked about when you don’t win. Guys off the bench you can’t afford to play much without severe drop off in performance can be a severe disadvantage. We have learned that the hard way all too often around here.
Saltalamacchia, in his opening audition with the Tigers has fulfilled the kind of important depth they were lacking. In 2016, without a viable, contributing, veteran backup for James McCann, things could have gotten a little salty. But it turned out that Salty is actually what we needed.